Is climate action at scale a possibility?
Lessons from Meghalaya’s attempt to strengthen its frontline across the State
28 Sep 2021
Stories of change from Meghalaya on moving towards “net-zero” emission commitments (Image: MBDA)

The recently released report on climate change by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has portrayed a devastating picture of the world that our future generations will have to deal with. While the impacts of climate change will be faced by all regions across the globe, it is particularly dire for India and its neighbours in South East Asia.

The report indicates that the sea level around Asia has been increasing at a faster rate than the average global rate and parts of cities like Mumbai and Chennai are likely to submerge underwater in the coming decades. It is estimated that the Indian subcontinent will experience a 20% surge in extreme rainfall events and cyclones due to rapid increase in ocean temperature - such as the Cyclone Tauktae, which killed more than 100 people in the West Coast only a few months ago. All these facts scream one key message “there is a need to act fast and to act at scale”.

India is the third largest emitter of CO2 in the world but it has not committed to its “net-zero goal” unlike most other countries. A country reaches “net-zero” when it is able to remove as much CO2 from the atmosphere as produced by it. India believes that these targets have to be more equitable for the developing countries. Nonetheless, to reduce the burden on fossil fuels, India has embarked on its ambitious journey to install 450 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2030.

Some Indian states have been more cognizant of the need to plan for mitigation of climate change impacts. In 2018, Odisha became one of the first states to formulate a comprehensive action plan to address climate change issues. Recently, Arunachal Pradesh announced its “Climate Change Management Mission 2047”. The neighbouring state of Meghalaya has also been leading climate discussions in the region.

In fact, Meghalaya’s Minister of Forest and Environment, Mr James K Sangma, recently talked about forests being the best carbon removal investments a state can make and how reforestation strategies and improving forest management together can have large potential to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. The department is planning to create a climate mandate by working with energy, soil and water conservation departments in the State. Indigenous green champions and community leaders will play a key role in making this happen as unlike most of the other States, 95% of forests in Meghalaya are under community ownership.

Would it be believable if we say Meghalaya might be able to make implementation of its climate change efforts a reality very soon? The answer lies within the State in an ongoing program of Meghalaya Basin Development Authority (MBDA).

In 2018, MBDA launched Community Led Landscape Management Program (CLLMP) to provide communities with capacities and resources to prepare plans for natural resource management (NRM) - in ways that made sense to them and within their traditional setups. This 60 million USD program partly supported by the World Bank aims to train youth and enable them to create NRM plans in 400 highly degraded landscapes.

But, given that 76% of the land area in the State is covered by forests and there is an increasing urgency to build community capacities to manage them better, the State decided to aim for saturating all its villages by 2022 with NRM capabilities. But the task seemed daunting, especially since CLLMP was finding it difficult to find trained workforce from previous programs in its initial days, leading to delays in program take-off.

Between the departments of Community and Rural Development, Water Resources, Agriculture and MBDA, there are about 36 initiatives related to Natural Resource and Rural Development. A large number of the people are being trained across various levels in all the programs on a range of subjects and millions are spent every year in capacity building.

But a new program like CLLMP found it almost impossible to leverage these trained assets and reuse them. Thus, MBDA decided it was time to transform its approach and planned to create a base of reusable assets while working with 400 villages in CLLMP. Building on these assets, the aim is to reach all 6458 villages in the State.

Currently, anchored within the Soil and Water Conservation Department of Meghalaya, the program for NRM at scale has already trained over 2100 village community facilitators to work with communities and create village NRM plans. This feat was achieved in less than 7 months because the Department leveraged the tools, templates, people, resources and knowledge products created and left behind by CLLMP.

This shift in design to work at scale has been made possible through collaborations with civil society and private sector organizations, and use of digital technologies in capacity building and planning. The State is confident that it will be able to train 18000 people (3 in each village) and create 6458 village level NRM plans by 2022. These plans will get implemented in years to come.

Now, the Forest Department in the State can leverage these trained 18000 people easily as they are being digitally footprinted and proof of their knowledge and skills is being left in their hands on smartphones. Their capacity building model - which follows the “low dose high frequency” principle - is gradually strengthening their confidence. To fulfil the climate mandate of the State, all that needs to be done is to provide some additional training and resources to this workforce, and they are set to work locally while collectively creating impact at scale.

These emerging stories of change need to travel to other departments within the State and other states of the country as it has possible answers to a realistic “net-zero goal” achievement plan with communities in the frontline.

The impacts of climate change know no national boundaries and the IPCC report has made it clear that failing to achieve reduction in targeted emissions by one will lead to increasing vulnerabilities in others.

Bhutan is the only carbon negative country in the world and yet, it is extremely vulnerable to glacial retreats in the face of increasing temperatures. Nepal and Bangladesh have set their carbon neutral targets but will continue to be at high risk of extreme weather events if their large neighbour doesn’t fulfil its responsibility to the region.

Hence, despite the inequities associated with the global agenda, inaction is not an option for India. Instead, India should look at successes at scale emerging out of places like Meghalaya which can reduce anxieties associated with “net-zero” emission commitments and target for community-led climate mitigation goals.


The writer works at Arghyam - an organization working towards ‘safe, sustainable water for 100 million people by 2023’. Arghyam is one of the partners in the CLLMP program of the Govt. of Meghalaya. Views expressed are personal.

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